Now that Santorum has exited the race and Newt Gingrich’s dreams for a brokered convention are fading, Mitt Romney finally appears poised to seal the GOP presidential nomination. The excitement will undoubtedly now shift to who will be Romney's vice-presidential running mate.
Most strategists suggest that Romney pick someone who represents a key demographic, which is probably why Intrade currently predicts Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida) will be the VP nominee. But they are wrong.
Hispanics across the nation are not so homogenous as to relate to the son of Cuban immigrants, and as George Will notes, they don’t necessarily coalesce around a candidate just because they are Hispanic. For example, Nevada’s Hispanic governor, Brian Sandoval, captured only one-third of the Hispanic vote in 2010. Not to mention, Marco Rubio presents a “Mormon” problem, ironically enough, given his childhood roots in the same church as Mitt Romney.
Nikki Haley has also been touted as a potential contender to narrow the gap in the all-important woman block. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll, Obama commands a huge lead (57-38 percent) among female voters over Mitt Romney. However, John McCain’s choice for a running-mate in 2008 shows that gender, alone, is not enough. Women strongly preferred Obama to Senator John McCain (56 -43 percent), unlike men, who split their votes about evenly for the two presidential candidates despite McCain’s historic choice for a running mate.
Strategists would also be wrong to suggest someone just because s/he geographically balances the ticket or has political influence in a swing state. In the past 16 presidential elections, only six presidential candidates (38%) have managed to win the home-state of their vice-presidential running mates.
Some argue Romney would be wise to select a candidate with a better track record of social conservatism in order to ease the fears of those in the GOP who don’t think Romney is conservative enough. This might have been a useful strategy if potential candidates could select running mates in the primary, but for the general election, this is unnecessary. When faced with a choice, the socially conservative “purists” in the Republican Party will likely rally behind Romney in order to defeat Obama, even if Romney’s running-mate lacks the social conservatism of a Rick Santorum. Furthermore, selecting a staunchly conservative running-mate would risk alienating independents, the true block both Obama and Romney need to woo in order to win.
Instead, Romney should focus on selecting a nominee who is smart, has credibility in the political arena, and embodies the spirit of a right-leaning independent (a la Ron Paul or John McCain), regardless of race, gender, or home-town state. This is especially true in light of John McCain’s selection of a virtually unknown, untested, and who the media depicted as unintelligent, candidate in 2008.
Despite the limited role the vice-president plays in the actual running of the nation (how many ties have there been in the Senate?) and the likelihood s/he will actually end up commander-in-chief (something that’s happened only eight times in this country’s 220+ year election history), the selection of one’s running mate can be a make-it or break-it decision for a presidential hopeful. For Romney, this is likely to be the case. For Republicans, hopefully he chooseswisely.